Today it’s been 6 years since Harald Siepermann passed away at the age of 50 after a battle with cancer.
Harald is still dearly missed by family, friends and colleagues. Many people who worked with Harald described him as one of the greatest character designers and an incredible kind and humble human being. While Harald Siepermann left us with an immense legacy of wonderful artwork, his passing remains an incredible lost for the world of animation.
In continuation of the post about Harald Siepermann’s transition from Mulan to Tarzan, this post is about his first assignment for Walt Disney’s Tarzan.
During Harald Siepermann’s first conversation with the directors Kevin Lima and Chris Buck in the summer of 1995, they asked if Harald wanted to explore the primate world and their relationship with a young Tarzan. Siepermann went back to Germany, and, based on the book Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, he did just that.
The above illustration was Harald’s very first gorilla drawing for Tarzan. “This is my favorite drawing right here,” he commented about the illustration. “I remember doing this coming straight from the very first meeting with Chris and Kevin, after they had introduced me to the project, asking if I was interested. ‘Ok,’ I thought, ‘they want me to do gorillas, what do they look like again?’ and I did this small drawing, without reference with just a ball pen, some watercolor and a bit of coffee…, yes coffee, and I was just lucky. This gorilla has an incredible presence, he’s just ‘there’. It’s one of those phenomenon’s, it’s your first go at something, beginners luck maybe.”
From his home studio Siepermann created as much gorillas as possible and exploring different artistic approaches. Some more realistic and some more cartoony, and some with a young Tarzan. The illustrations below are just a few of the many gorilla designs.
In the early 1990’s a chain letter was circling around Hollywood and also made its way into the animation world. Hans Bacher, who got the chain letter from Daan Jippes, listed Harald Siepermann as one of the five people to pass the letter on to. “In 1993 I got a copy of a chain letter from London, which had been through all of California before,” commented Harald Siepermann. “It promised eternal luck if the chain wasn’t broken, you know these kind of letters. The list of names included the likes of Whoopie Goldberg, the Zuckers, James Newton Howard, F.F. Coppola, Dinah Shore, Jane Fonda, Art Buchwald, etc. It somehow got into the hands of cartoonists and I got it through Daan Jippes and Hans Bacher.”
The person that received the chain letter had to send it to five other peoples. Harald Siepermann decorated the letter with a funny drawing of Alfred J. Kwak and passed the chain letter on to Herman van Veen (co-creator Alfred J. Kwak), Shigeko Nonaka (Vice President of Telescreen Japan, Inc.) Christian Schnalke (friend and co-writer of several animation productions Siepermann worked on), Heribert Schulmeyer (German comic book artist), and Andreas C. Knigge (German publisher of the Alfred J. Kwak comics).
Here are several of these chain letters by various artists, that Harald Siepermann kept in his archive.
In continuation of the two previous post about Oscar and Rebecca from the cancelled Walt Disney project Fraidy Cat, here’s another post about the character Doris, the owner of the cat Oscar.
During the period that Harald Siepermann worked on Fraidy Cat, the script described Doris as a single lady in her early twenties, wearing a thick rimmed glasses, and who lives in a small apartment in London. She works as a secretary in a small office building across the courtyard from her apartment. From the windowsill of her apartment Oscar and the goldfishes Bernard and Herman follow Doris throughout the day. They wonder what she’s doing there sitting down all day, while she can do that at home as well. The lonesome Doris has a shy and introverted character, and like Oscar has to gain more confidence throughout the story, Doris makes a personal transition as well.
Here are various illustrations by Harald Siepermann with different design approaches in the search for a possible look for Doris.
Today it has been two years since John Watkiss passed away. Harald Siepermann and John Watkiss were good friends. They met each other when Harald was working on the development of Who Framed Roger Rabbit in London in 1987. Furthermore they both worked on the visual development of the Walt Disney projects Tarzan and Kingdom of the Sun.
His work on Tarzan is praised for his amazing jungle scenes which he drew on large canvas, and his great detail for the human anatomy of the character Tarzan. Here are some of his designs for Tarzan from Harald Siepermann’s archive.
“He did one of those a day,” commented Harald Siepermann about Watkiss jungle paintings. “And then something, the man is a real genius, and that includes all the pros and cons, and he knows it. But funny enough I got along pretty well with him, and I visited him on a regular basis in his then Glendale-home.”
Besides his Disney work, Watkiss is also known for his portraits. “He repeatedly proposed to do a portrait of me,” commented Harald Siepermann, “and I could bite my own ass, that we never got around to make it happen.”
This year it will be 20 years since the Walt Disney animated feature Tarzan was released. Harald Siepermann worked three years as visual development artists on that movie, and through his artwork had a lot of influence on the look of the characters in the final film. This year we’ll dedicate many post to Harald Siepermann’s work on Tarzan. First let’s see how his involvement started.
In the summer of 1995, Harald Siepermann worked for several weeks on Mulan at the Walt Disney studio in Burbank. He worked on several characters, among them the famous Mushu, but also Chinese Soldiers. “My job on Mulan was as good as finished and I was merely waiting for my flight home, when we saw a Chinese movie for reference,” reflected Harald Siepermann. “A very brutal and gory movie, with lots of blood, beheadings and severed arms and stuff, everything a good movie should have in other words. Just for fun and to kill the time till lunchbreak I made a few over-the-top-sketches to get it out of my system. And also just for fun, I boarded them.”
These Chinese Soldiers caught their attention of Kevin Lima and Chris Buck, the assigned directors of Tarzan. “I remember these sketches being hung in the hallway outside of Chris and my offices, a space we shared with a few Mulan story artists,” said Kevin Lima. “With their barreled chests and huge forearms, these warriors reminded us of gorillas.”
“They called me into their office and I think we were the first three people, to work on the project,” continued Siepermann. “They just had obtained the rights from the Burroughs-family and still didn’t really know, what to do with the story. So basically, what they did was giving me the novel, telling me to doodle away and explore as many directions as I could think of, concentrating on the gorillas. I went back to Germany with that brief, doing exactly that: sketching away, doing a lot of quick drawings, exploring the characters and their possibilities.”
In future post we’ll show Harald’s first gorilla designs. For now, here are the drawings and copies of the color design of the Chinese Soldiers for Mulan.
A follow up to a previous post about the character John Silver from the Walt Disney film Treasure Planet.
After several weeks working on John Silver, Harald Siepermann continued to work on other characters from Treasure Planet as well. However, later that year Siepermann did another take on the Silver character, but with a slightly different approach. Here are some of these designs.
In the middle of 1990 Harald Siepermann worked on the visual development of the movie We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, based on the children book by Hudson Talbott. After An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, it was the second production from Steven Spielberg’s Amblimation studio. At that time, the movie was under direction of Simon Wells and Phil Nibbelink, with who Harald Siepermann shared an office at the Forum building in Camden Town, London, while they were working on Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1987.
Harald Siepermann did visual development for the dinosaur characters Rex, Dweeb and Woog (at that time of production called Hatrack), which will be shared in future post. Besides the dinosaurs, he also worked on the human character Professor Screweyes, an evil circus director for which Harald used actor Danny DeVito as reference. Below are several sketches by Harald Siepermann of Professor Screweyes.
And below are the cleaned up designs. Although his designs doesn’t reflect the final version of the character in the film, they for sure are appealing.
Here are a series of Christmas themed designs of Alfred J. Kwak by Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher from circa 1990. The illustrations were used for a Christmas card that was send out by Mad T Party, the advertisement company of Harald Siepermann, Hans Bacher, Jens Wiemer, Thomas Mossolff and Christian Schellewald.
Harald drew the sketches of the main characters from the television series and placed them in a composition. The final inking and colors were done by Hans Bacher.
A follow up to a previous post about the cancelled Walt Disney movie Fraidy Cat.
In addition to the cat Oscar, Harald Siepermann also worked on the colorful parrot Rebecca. The name Rebecca would later during the production change to Corina.
In the story, Rebecca and Oscar are bound to each other. Oscar is in trouble because it seems like he ate Rebecca, and therefore broke Doris’ house rule: you don’t hurt other animals, let alone eat them. Oscar asks Rebecca to show herself to Doris, as prove that he didn’t ate her. Rebecca promise to help him, only if he helps her as well by finishing business with her no-good owner Jim.
Both characters have opposite characteristics. Rebecca is a strong and confident bird with a big personality. In contrary to Oscar, a rather clumsy cat for who everything is strange and scary.
As a direction to explore the character Rebecca, director Piet Kroon suggested Harald Siepermann to use the actress Goldie Hawn as model. Notable features are her big eyes, big mouth, big hair, and overall sweet look. And her small nose could be used as a small beak for the parrot.
Here are various designs of Rebecca by Harald Siepermann.